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Late on a bill? Call customer service.

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Richard Lewis/AP/File

(Read caption) Tourists in London's Parliment Square use a British Telecom red phone booth, in this April 2004 file photo. If you’re going to be a bit late on a bill, call customer service and tell them about it, Hamm advises.

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It seems so simple, yet it works so well.

Sometimes a bill just falls through the cracks. We forget about paying it. We’re on a trip and don’t check our mail in time. A big unexpected insurance bill hits at the same time and we choose to pay the insurance bill first.

A bill slides up to its due date – and then past it. We’re facing a potential late fee – and possibly even a credit report ding.

What can we do?

Obviously, the best step is to pay that bill as fast as possible, but there’s another little step to take that will usually eliminate the credit report ding and often eliminate the late fee, too.

All you have to do is make a little phone call. 

Just call the customer service number on your bill. Tell the customer service representative that you’re going to be a bit late with your payment, and explain why.

I’ve had to do this several times in the past. Each time, the result has been a net positive for me.

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Every time I’ve done it, the customer service rep has made a note of the situation on my account so I wouldn’t be bugged by alerts related to a late payment.

Almost every time I’ve done it, my late fee has been waived. I can only think of one company that didn’t just waive the late fee. This, of course, assumed that I had the payment in the mail immediately.

If I’ve done this within a few days of being late, I’ve never seen any impact on my credit history, so there’s been no negative impact on my credit report due to being late.

Once, when I called my electric company about this, they actually ended up talking to me about switching to an annual average bill, where they average out our bills over the course of a year so that we pay the same amount each month and make up the difference at the end. This is something we tried out and found to be financially advantageous for us.

If you’re going to be a bit late on a bill, call them and tell them about it. You’ll mitigate and often eliminate the negative consequences of being late, provided you do actually pay the bill as soon as you possibly can.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. 

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